Evolution of our birthing capabilities

A different interpretation of the increased use of interventions is that women have evolved to be worse at childbirth and that there are more complications now than there used to be. French obstetrician Michel Odent argues that since the use of artificial oxytocin during labour and childbirth, our natural oxytocin system (on which childbirth, placenta expulsion, attachment and breastfeeding relies heavily) has been very much underused in the last several decades. In accordance with recent advances in epigenetics and evolution theory, this underuse might result in the oxytocin system not working as well anymore in subsequent generations[1] (see Box 21). But even if this were to be true, current statistics of 85% intervention-free births in some settings (which include high-risk births) still mean that C-section rates of up to 50% and induction rates of 20-30% are not at all justified. Moreover, if our current overuse of oxytocin-based interventions really has the power to mess with our ability as a species to give birth, breastfeed, love, and function socially and sexually, this would be a very strong argument to not use artificial oxytocin, unless absolutely necessary. By no means should this theory be used to justify more interventions.

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The basic needs of labouring women

French obstetrician Michel Odent puts forward the very interesting question of what the basic needs are of labouring women[1]. In order to answer this question he looks to physiological concepts such as adrenaline-oxytocin antagonism and the concept of neocortical inhibition.

Adrenaline-oxytocin antagonism

The mechanism of adrenaline-oxytocin antagonism means that mammals (including humans) cannot release oxytocin at the same time as they release hormones of the adrenaline family.

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How it all started

When I was pregnant with my first child, it all seemed so simple. I was horrified by the way I saw some parents interact with their children, and I swore to be nothing but loving, gentle, understanding and sensitive with my child. Above all, I was never going to let my child “cry it out”! The last thing I wanted was an overload of stress hormones to stunt their development and make them needy for the rest of their lives. Especially since I knew firsthand how painful it was to feel needy most of the time.

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